A steady trickle of people walked into A’s Sewing Shoppe, each highlighting some aspect of why the shop has survived so long—but also why it’s closing its doors at the end of the year.
The business has been in Barbara Pizzola’s family for 40 years, and it’s fallen to her to say goodbye. But she’s got a positive outlook—and a new full-time job she started in September. On her days off, she can be found at the shop at 419 E. 2nd St. downtown The Dalles, repairing sewing machines or chatting up customers.
She’s also trying to sell the rest of her inventory, which includes vacuum cleaners, vacuum cleaner supplies, and janitorial supplies.
One couple, seeing the going out of business sign painted on the window, came in to ask about accessories and a sewing table. The woman already had a machine, and Pizzola asked where she got it. It was purchased locally, but at “a mass merchant,” as Pizzola calls them.
She said to a reporter, “That’s one of the reasons [I’m closing.] They went to a mass merchant and bought a machine.”
It’s what’s killing small business, she said. “Mass merchants have the dollars to pull in customers.”
She’s philosophical about closing the family business. “It was really good to us for many years. But the time has come. You’ve got to move on. I love having the shop,” she said, “but you can just tell when it’s time to leave, and I’m ok with it. It’s just a new adventure. Who doesn’t like a good adventure?”
Her new job has been a bit of an adjustment, though. “It’s totally different. Here, if I want to go for a walk, I just put a sign on the door, lock it, and leave. So it’s been difficult to have what most people consider a normal job.”
When she announced she was closing, people told her to enjoy her retirement. Uh, no. She’s too young to retire, and wouldn’t want to if she could. “I like being busy.”
Her dad, Earl Anderson, bought the original Singer’s store in 1979, when it was in the 300 block of East Second.
She joined the business in 1982. In 1984, they moved to 422 E. 2nd St. Pizzola sold that building in 2016 and moved across the street to a rental space at 419 E. 2nd.
When Anderson died in 2017, it was a hard loss for her. “He could always teach me something new and it was very, very hard when he passed away because I had no one to bounce things off, or ask, ‘What would you do in this case?’”
Her dad not only taught her to repair sewing machines, he also taught her about developing relationships with customers.
She’s a natural, gabbing with several people who come in to pick up a few items, check out what’s on offer, or just stop by and have Pizzola give loves to their dog. “See?” Pizzola quipped. “Even dogs like me.”
She’s so outgoing that when she got t-boned in a car accident and saw the insurance company’s doctor about a hurt shoulder, he noted her personable nature in his medical report.
One customer came in and exclaimed, “I thought you’d be all sold out by now.” She bought some vacuum cleaner bags and headed out after a laughter-filled visit.
“I have wonderful, wonderful customers,” Pizzola said. “It’s from being here for years and building relationships.”
Pizzola will give all of her unsold vacuum cleaner items to the Habitat for Humanity ReStore in The Dalles. “I think it’s important for people to know that, because I carried bags that you can’t just find anywhere.”
She’s thought long and hard about why mom-and-pop stores are going away. First, she said, they pay more for their merchandise than a large chain will. And what they do stock is something they like that’s dependable, and and can be worked on to repair if it does develop a problem.
“With a mass merchant, they don’t care. If you don’t like it, it’s your problem.”
But because customers get to know the mom and pop merchants, they have no problem coming in to complain “because they know they will be talking to the same person” who sold it to them.
Her dad always taught her to never judge a book by its cover. “When they come in the door, you treat everyone the same, no matter what. And maybe that’s why we had such a good reputation of being fair and reliable” and having “the knowledge to repair the majority of machines.”
A’s Sewing is so trusted with repairs that people who have moved away have mailed their machines to Pizzola for repair.
Much of her work these days is machine repairs—she had five in the queue when she talked to a reporter recently.
But it was also the sometimes unpleasant aspects of repair work that finally made her decide to close shop.
Though a similar thing had happened plenty of times before, one customer about four months ago proved to be the tipping point.
The customer had brought in his wife’s sewing machine to repair. Pizzola did the work, then called him when it was done. He told her he didn’t need it, that his wife had found a new machine she liked.
She told him to come get it anyway, since she wouldn’t store it for him. He groused about what she’d charge, even though he’d signed a paper acknowledging the repair estimate.
She told him to just come and get it. No charge. So he did. But that was when she decided to be done with it. She wanted to quit while she still liked people and didn’t want to end up bitter. “They didn’t want to pay for my time and knowledge,” she said. “With this one guy I had had enough. Why continue subjecting myself when I am just trying help?”
She still plans to do repairs for her customers. “All the people I’ve sold machines to, I want to still help those people.”